Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), Mental Health, Trauma-Informed Teaching 05.05.2021

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Expanding School-Based Behavioral Health Services

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we are showcasing the voices of educators who are leading the charge in addressing student mental health and providing support for their students. In this interview, Executive Director of Special Education and Student Services Jason Harris from Columbus Public Schools in Nebraska shares how they prepared school staff to talk about trauma.

Behavioral health services

Tell us more about your district and the need for behavioral health services at Columbus Public Schools.

The Columbus Public School System is composed of five elementary schools (1,564 students), one middle school (1,151 students), and a high school (1,256 students). Our student population is very diverse. Fourteen percent of our student population are English language learners, 51% of our students are classified as free or reduced lunch, and 15% of our student population has a verified disability.

The need for behavioral health services at Columbus Public Schools begins in elementary school with some students emigrating from counties with civil distress and having witnessed or have close family members who experienced violence and crime. Anxiety, even within the elementary student body, is prevalent among students.

How did you hear about Kognito simulations? Why did you decide they were a fit for your district?

Columbus Public Schools originally heard about Kognito when our state rolled out the Nebraska Youth Suicide Prevention Training. During that time our state paid for districts to use the Kognito At-Risk course. Kognito is a good fit for our district because it’s interactive training that can be done on a staff member’s own time if needed.

How did you decide to roll out Trauma-Informed Practices to the district? What was involved?

We rolled out Trauma-Informed Practices by sending information about trauma in general to all staff members. After we helped staff understand trauma, we gave them time to complete the course during a professional development day. Then each building, with the help of our student services department, monitored which staff completed the training and who needed to complete the training after the deadline.

behavioral health services - trauma webinar

 

What were the results of your training initiative?

We had a 95% participation rate.

What reactions have you heard from your teachers, staff, and students? Have you noticed any changes?

Coming back to school after closing due to the pandemic, staff needed more tools in their toolbox to deal with trauma. As an administration, we have noticed that staff are able to have basic conversations about trauma and recognize when a student is experiencing trauma. There is still work to do though.

What’s ahead for training in Columbus Public Schools?

Based upon the training, our district has applied for several grants to hire a Licensed Mental Health Practitioner for our district. In addition, adding an additional social worker has been given priority in our strategic plan.

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